After garnering widespread praise (and an Oscar nomination for screenwriting) for his 2000 directorial debut You Can Count on Me Kenneth Lonergan was in-demand. In September 2005 the writer/director began production on a follow-up feature: Margaret which touted Anna Paquin Matt Damon Mark Ruffalo Matthew Broderick Allison Janney as well as legendary filmmakers Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) as producers. The movie wrapped production in a few months time. The buzz was already growing.
Now six years later the movie is finally hitting theaters. So…what took so long?
The journey to this point hasn't been an easy one and it shows. If a film's shot footage is a block of granite and the editing process is the careful carving that turns it into a statuesque work of art Margaret feels like it was attacked by a blind man with a jackhammer. The film is a cinematic disaster a mishmash of shallow characters overwrought politics and sporadic tones. The story follows Lisa Coen (Paquin) a New York teenager who finds herself drowning in chaos after distracting a bus driver (Ruffalo) causing him to hit and kill a pedestrian (Janney). Initially Lisa tells the police it was all an accident but as time passes regret takes hold and the girl embarks on a mission to take down the man she now regards as a culprit. That's just the tip of the iceberg–along the way Lisa deals with everyday teen stuff: falling for her geometry teacher (Damon) combating her anxiety-ridden actress mother losing her virginity dabbling in drugs debating 9/11 and the Iraq War cultivating a relationship with her father in LA and more. There are about eight seasons of television stuffed into Margaret but even a two and a half hour run time can't make it all click.
For more on Margaret check out Indie Seen: Margaret the Long Lost Anna Paquin/Matt Damon Movie
S03E10: Oh, United States of Tara. I know this isn’t the case and they created this episodes months ago before the news of their cancellation, but it seems like this week’s episode was a direct response to the news a few weeks ago, because everyone starts abandoning the U.S.S. Tara. Well, almost everyone. But a captain never abandons his ship and we’ll get into that later.
Anyway, there were two catalysts for the episode. First was the news of Bryce and the implications of his existence. The second was Lionel's death. Combine the two of them and well, I’m still not exactly sure how we can call this show a comedy after that.
First, let’s start with the central character most removed from the rest: Charmaine. While still a part of the family, she's removed from the general destruction that was unfolding with the rest of the Gregsons. Neil finally returned and while it was really sweet to watch Patton Oswalt hold the baby and be really sweet, it was really funny hearing Char talking about getting some dick (and a little strange to learn that she lost her virginity at 11 to a dude with a hairlip, but I guess it has to be a comedy somehow). The two new parents finally find out about Bryce playing games with Wheels and taking her on the bus, and as Patton tweeted, he fucking lost it. This was the first of the bailouts. Neil finally gets through to Char that he is her family now, he has a responsibility to her and his daughter to ensure their safety and if that means removing themselves from her dangerous sister, so be it. Char eventually sees that she can’t take of Tara if it means potentially taking her away from Wheels. And we all gotta love it when the man of the house finally takes charge, woo!
"And does super casual mean we're khakis or jean shorts?" - Evan
Next to abandon ship had already started to jump, but she kept one foot solidly on deck: Kate. Things had been going pretty well with Evan but when they attempted to define it by way of comparison to pants things just unraveled. This is what happens when you bring Kevin Smith into your relationship talks. Also, in retaliation for him unleashing his demon spawn of a son on her, she unloads her family issues on him. Check and mate, bitches. So, needless to say, they were in a mighty uncertain time. But then Lionel’s death and Bryce’s subsequent tantrum cause her to realize that she has to get out and she pulls an altered run to the airport to meet him at the last minute. Only, since she is a flight attendant, she apparently has the super power to just board the flight and get the seat immediately beside Evan -- not a bad super power to have.
Now we get to the real and uber-dramatic person jumping overboard: Marshall. He makes his glorious return from New York excited about life and all its infinite possibilities, but if there is ever anything life teaches harder than anything else, it's that it’s always too short. Lionel was killed in a car crash and Marshall learns this through one of the worst teachers possibly ever portrayed on film. Everyone, of course, seeks to comfort him and despite his best attempts to keep them out with a locked door that doesn’t stop them. He appeases them by listening, but never lashes out. He prefers to suffer in silence; Marshall never wants to add to anyone’s problems and you really gotta admire a kid like that. However, you can’t suffer the world by yourself and after he realizes that he decides to leave. Actually, he didn’t so much realize that as he did give up after Bryce destroyed his room. When he summed up his problems saying “no one can have a bigger problem than her” it really summed up his whole family’s problem. They aren’t able to deal with anything else, whether it be internal or external, because of Tara. And after his first love dies with no one able to support him in the manner he needs, of course he leaves. Gotta respect that.
"Apparently Woody Allen works the register at FAO Schwartz on 5th Ave." - Marshall
But right as he was about to jump, the captain of the ship ran up to deck to ask for his help: Max. Poor, poor, poor Max. Everyone else had the ability to leave and took the opportunity to do so. But Max? Max can’t leave. Whether it's due to social responsibility or love (Max will always say love), Max has to stay and help Tara. He finally realized that he was in over his head when he finds out that Hatteras gave up Tara as a client and when Bryce was going crazy he asked Marshall for help with this “river of shit.” And then Max finally sees that the rest of his family can’t deal with Tara any more and it’s up to him. And him alone. In that moment, he recognized his duty and he could’ve buckled under that pressure, but he didn’t. You have to respect a man like that. Max is very strong and if he can keep Tara from killing herself or someone else there may just be hope for her yet.
Unfortunately, a ship isn’t able to jump itself; it has to weather the storm: Tara. Tara had the right idea this week: snort the pills. Bryce can’t barf up something that’s gone up the snot tube and it works. Unfortunately it puts her in a high state and that’s only slightly better than Bryce because she’s not destroying anything. But it stops her from being there for her family when they need her. Ah, choices. Comatose or a destructive adolescent? She attempts to stay sober and Tara for a little bit for Marshall when he’s at his lowest, but that choice has disastrous consequences. Because she didn’t take the medication (or immediately after?) Bryce was able to escape. When the family is off to Lionel’s (flamboyant) funeral Bryce goes off in Marshall’s room and trashes the place. So, it’s not enough for Bryce to destroy Tara’s inner self, he starts taking it out on her family and he starts with the most vulnerable. What a dick.
And since we have two episodes left to go, Bryce asserts himself out saying that he’s going to be around for a while. He takes a pair of scissors to Tara’s hair and boom - we’ve got a crisis on deck. With everyone seemingly leaving, the final two episodes will probably focus more on how Tara tries to handle Bryce and the implications of his appearance. Like the title of the episode suggests, this was a train wreck and like a train wreck you really can’t look away (and yes, I realized I used shipping metaphors throughout. Artistic license, FTW) even if you have to wait to weeks to watch the destruction.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Claire is an attractive CIA operative and Ray is an M16 agent who simultaneously leave their Governmental spy activities in the dust to try and profit from a battle between two rival multi-national corporations both trying to launch a new product that will transform the world and make billions. Their goal is to secure the top-secret formula and get a patent before they are outsmarted. While their respective egomaniacal CEOs engage in an unending battle of wills and one-upmanship Claire and Ray start out conning and playing one another in a clever game of industrial espionage that is even more complicated due to their own long-term romantic relationship.
WHO’S IN IT?
Reuniting Closer co-stars Julia Roberts (as Claire) and Clive Owen (as Ray) turns out to be an inspired idea. They turn out to be the perfect pair oozing movie-star charm and electricity in this elaborate con-game that might have been the kind of thing Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant might have made in the '60s (in fact they did in Charade). Roberts with that infamous hairstyle back the way we like it and Owen looking great in sunglasses prove they have what it takes to navigate us through this ultra-complex plot in which no one is sure who they can trust at any given moment. They play it all in high style and the wit just flows as the story skirts back and forth during the period of five years. The supporting cast is well-chosen with juicy roles for Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti (out of their John Adams duds) as the two CEOs going for each other’s throats. Giamatti who sometimes has a tendency to overdo it is especially slimy here and great fun to watch.
Big-star studio movies today rarely take risks and often talk down to the audience but in Duplicity writer/director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) has crafted a complicated con-comedy that requires complete attention at all times just to keep up with the dense plot’s twists and turns. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a New York Times crossword puzzle and Gilroy and his top-drawer production team deliver a glossy beautiful-looking film that’s easy on the eyes hitting locations from Dubai to Rome to New York City.
Like any good puzzle it sometimes can be frustrating putting it all together and Gilroy’s habit of taking us back in time and then inching forward gets a little confusing even with the on-screen chyron pointing out where we are at any given moment. Stick with it though and you will be well-rewarded.
A scene near the end where the formula must be found scanned and faxed in a matter of minutes is sweat-inducing edge-of-your-seat moviemaking and it provides the ultimate opportunity for Roberts and Owen to take the “con” to the next level. Another where Roberts uses a thong to try and trick Owen into admitting an affair he never had is also priceless and gets right to the heart of the game-playing.
GO OUT AND GET POPCORN WHEN ...
Never. Stock up during the coming attractions. If you miss a moment of this entertaining romp you might never figure it all out.